The Terminal (2004) — What happens when you lose your boarding pass

“My friend say… you are stallion… Like a horse.”

Sue’s rating: Ya ne govoryu po-bolgarski. And I mean that sincerely.

Sue’s review: A few years ago, it occurred to me that the cold I had was turning into something beyond the capabilities of my usual remedies. (Chicken soup, ginger ale, trashy romance novels and lots of self-pity.) I was thinking bronchitits, pneumonia, black lung disease or (in a Moulin Rouge! moment) typhoid. I sounded, no kidding, like Darth Vader post-Emporer and pre-dehelmeting. So I called the doctor’s office, slogged my phlegmy way over there, signed in and sat down in the curiously empty waiting room to… well, wait.

And wait.

And wait.

After forty-five minutes, I checked with the receptionist, who was sure it would only be a few minutes more. Fair enough.

Forty-five minutes after that, I’d plowed through six outdated Newsweeks, seven or eight Times, five National Geographics, all the puzzles in the Highlights (sorry kids!) and one large box of Kleenex. And while I don’t want to come across as cranky or intolerant, I really wasn’t feeling well and I have to admit I was getting a little… miffed.

So I toddled up to the receptionist and checked again.

She gave me the sort of blank stare that made me think I was going to have to reintroduce myself, but there must have been just a glint of anti-joviality in my red-rimmed watering eyes because she took off like a thundering herd of one to check with the nurse on my behalf…

…and came back to announce that the doctor was running “a little late” and wasn’t actually in the building yet. In fact, as it turned out, good ol’ Doc hadn’t planned to take any appointments today, so mine was a bit of an “oopsie.” (Explaining why I was all alone in Muzak purgatory.) But they could squeeze me in to see another doctor in an hour or so, she said. Maybe two. Would I mind waiting “just a little longer” or would I care to reschedule my appointment? They could see me in a few weeks.

Now this is actually supposed to be a movie review and not the story of how Sue and her sloshing lungs heroically refrained from coming completely unglued at a receptionist, but I’m not a frequent flyer by any means and so when I think of interminable waits, I flashback to the medical profession instead of the airport.

Although I didn’t have to wait for months, mind you. It just felt like it.

The Terminal is the story of international traveler Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks) who is afflicted with both an incomplete grasp of English and the in-flight coup d’tat of his nation of origin. (A fictional country called Krakozhia.) Upon landing in the United States, he’s informed that since he has no country, he can’t stay… and since he has no country, he can’t go back.

It’s a catch-22, an international relations mobius loop. Come to think of it, it’s sort of like the Hotel California — only with really uncomfortable seats and a Burger King. What ensues is a sometimes humorous, sometimes clever and sometimes head-scratchingly odd illustration of man’s ability to adapt to a new habitat. Nuts and berries in the wilderness, saltines and condiments in the International Lounge; I fail to see the difference. As it transpires, Viktor carving out a little slice of home in a big building full o’ commuters, is the highlight of the movie.

Because the plot itself is actually wafer thin.

When you think about it, a story that can be summarized as “Man sits in airport until he can leave” really doesn’t give you that much to work with, Spielberg directing or not. So the writers tossed in a whole passel of subplots to keep the public in their seats chowing on outrageously expensive popcorn. Included in the mix are a Greek janitor’s conspiracy theory, a mysterious peanut can, a bit of pitching woo in what I’d call the Cyrano De Bergerac method with a half-twist, lost luggage poker, and the somewhat angsty and needing subtitles saga of the chronically ill Russian “goat.”

Interesting, but not exactly tons of fun, is the ongoing campaign by the airport Homeland Security Honcho, Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci) to rid himself of Viktor by the expedient, if not particularly ethical, means of encouraging him to make a break for it. The beauty of this method is that as soon as Viktor steps out the door onto official U.S. soil (actually concrete from what I can see), he becomes an illegal alien and they can have him arrested and carted off to new accommodations in a federal lock-up. No muss, no fuss.

This, of course, bounces happily across the line of credibility because we all know that your standard government beaurocrat craves paperwork the way the rest of us crave oxygen and there’s simply no way one would opt for an easy out when there are rainforests yet to be defoliated. In any case, Viktor, sensing something amiss — possibly because of the security cameras that track his every movement in sort of a lion/gazelle pas de deux, wisely decides to stay put. And so the story goes.

One of the most confusing and surreal elements of the film was the presence of Catherine Zeta-Jones in the role of Amelia, aka “the token romantic interest for the lead actor — and while she is not going to move the plot forward in any meaningful way, doesn’t she have great gams and look really cute in that flight attendent outfit?” I have nothing personal against the woman at all, mind you, but that didn’t stop my teeth from grinding every time she started to wibble about her adultery-enabling relationship issues. Hmph. Strumpet.

Aside from the dubious presence of Zeta-Jones, my only other major disappointment with this movie was the ending. It felt tacked on, out of rhythm and depressingly convenient. Now apparently there were two endings written and they went with the second option, so maybe the other would have been an improvement. Or not. A note for Mr. Spielberg. Sometimes you can trust the audience to take a story to its logical conclusion without spoon-feeding it to them in a high fructose corn syrup base. Lopping the last ten minutes off the film would really have made it a more satisfactory experience.

In the final analysis, The Terminal isn’t going to find a slot in my DVD collection unless Santa drops it down the chimney, but if I ever stumble across it during a low-tide channel surf, I’ll probably watch it again. As long as CSI isn’t on, anyway.

And oh yeah, it was pneumonia. But I’m feeling much better now. I just knew you’d be worried.

Intermission!

  • More product placements than there are commercials during the Super Bowl.
  • As a carpenter, Viktor rocks. As a plumber, eh, not so much.
  • Gupta the janitor’s hobby.
  • On the departure/arrival board, every destination is a city except for Krakozhia.
  • In the terminal bookstore, Viktor reads “Oh The Places You’ll Go”, by Dr. Seuss.

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